Too good to be true, p.12
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       Too Good to Be True, p.12

Page 12

  Author: Kristan Higgins


  “VERY GOOD, MRS. SLOVANANSKI, one two three snap, five six seven pause. You got it, girl! Okay, now watch Grace and me. ” Julian and I did the basic salsa step twice more, me smiling gamely and swishing so my skirt twirled. Then he twirled me left, spun me back against him and dipped. “Ta-da!”

  The crowd went wild, gingerly clapping their arthritic hands. It was Dancin’ with the Oldies, the favorite weekly event at Golden Meadows Retirement Community, and Julian was in his element. Most weeks, I was his partner and co-teacher. Also, Mémé lived here, and though she was about as loving as the sharks who ate their young, a Puritanical familial duty had been long drilled into my skull. We were, after all, Mayflower descendants. Ignoring nasty relatives was for other, luckier groups. Plus, dancing opportunities were few and far between, and I loved to dance. Especially with Julian, who was good enough to compete.

  “Does everyone have it?” Julian asked, checking our couples. “One two three snap…other way, Mr. B. —five six seven, don’t forget the pause, people. Okay, let’s see what we can do when the music’s on! Grace, grab Mr.

  Creed and show him how it’s done. ”

  Mr. and Mrs. Bruno had already taken the dance floor. Their osteoporosis and artificial joints couldn’t quite pull off the sensuality the salsa usually required, but they made up for it in the look on their faces…love, pure and simple, and happiness, and joy, and gratitude. It was so touching, so lovely, that I miscounted, resulting in a stumble for Mr. Creed.

  “Sorry,” I said, grabbing him a little more firmly. “My fault. ” From her chariot of doom, my grandmother made a disgusted noise. Like a lot of GM residents, she came each week to watch the dancers. Then Mrs. Slovananski cut in—she’d had her eye on Mr. Creed for some time, rumor had it—and I went over to one of the spectators as Julian carefully dipped Helen Pzorkan so as not to aggravate her weak bladder.

  “Hey, Mr. Donnelly, feeling up to a turn on the dance floor?” I said to one of the many folks who came to watch, enjoying the music from eras gone by, but a little shy or stiff to venture out.

  “I’d love to, Grace, but my knee isn’t what it used to be,” he said. “Besides, I’m not much of a dancer. I only looked good when my wife was with me, telling me what to do. ”

  “I’m sure that’s not true,” I reassured him, patting his arm.

  “Well,” he said, looking at his feet.

  “How did you and your wife meet?” I asked.

  “Oh,” he said, smiling, his eyes going distant. “She was the girl next door. I don’t remember a day that I didn’t love her. I was twelve when her family moved into the neighborhood. Twelve years old, but I made sure the other boys knew she’d be walking to school with me. ”

  His voice was so wistful that it brought a lump to my throat. “How lucky, to meet when you were so young,” I murmured.

  “Yes. We were lucky,” he said, smiling at the memory. “Lucky indeed. ”

  You know, it sounded so noble and selfless, teaching a dance class to the old folks, but the truth was, this was usually the best night of my week. Most nights I spent home, correcting papers and making up tests. But on Mondays, I put on a flowing, bright-colored skirt (often with sequins, mind you) and set off to be the belle of the ball. Usually I went in early to read to some of the nonverbal patients, which always made me feel rather holy and wonderful.

  “Gracie,” Julian called, motioning for me. I glanced at my watch. Sure enough, it was nine o’clock, bedtime for many of the residents. Julian and I ended our sessions by putting on a little show, a dance where we’d really ham it up.

  “What are we doing tonight?” I asked.

  “I thought a fox-trot,” he said. He changed the CD, walked to the center of the floor and held out his arms with a flourish. I stepped over to him, swishing, and extended my hand, which he took with aplomb. Our heads snapped to the audience, and we waited for the music. Ah. The Drifters, “There Goes My Baby. ” As we slow-slow-quickquicked around the dance floor, Julian looked into my eyes. “I signed us up for a class. ”

  I tipped my head as we angled our steps to avoid Mr. Carlson’s walker. “What kind of class?”

  “Meeting Mr. Right or something. Money-back guarantee. You owe me sixty bucks. One night only, two-hour seminar, don’t have kittens, okay? It’s sort of like a motivational class. ”

  “You’re serious, aren’t you?” I said.

  “Quiet. We need to meet people. And you’re the one faking a boyfriend. Might as well date someone who can actually pick up the check. ”

  “Fine, fine. It just sounds kind of…dumb. ”

  “And the fake boyfriend is smart?” I didn’t answer. “We’re both dumb, Grace, at least when it comes to men, or we wouldn’t be hanging out together three times a week watching Dancing with the Stars and Project Runway with this as the highlight of our social calendar, would we?”

  “Aren’t we grouchy,” I muttered.

  “And correct. ” He twirled me swiftly out and spun me back in. “Watch it, honey, you almost stepped on my foot. ”

  “Well, to tell you the truth, I’m meeting someone in half an hour. So there. I’m way ahead of you in the dating game. ”

  “Well, good for you. That’s a killer skirt you’re wearing. Here we go, two three four, spin, slide, ta-da!”

  Our dance ended, and our captive audience once again applauded. “Grace, you sure live up to your name!”

  cooed Dolores Barinski, one of my favorites.

  “Oh, pshaw,” I said, loving the compliment. The old folks, male and female, thought I was adorable, admired my young skin and bendable limbs. Of course it was the highlight of my social life! And it was so romantic here.

  Everyone here had a story, some hopelessly romantic tale of how they met their love. No one here had to go online and fill out forms that asked if you were a Sikh looking for a Catholic, if you found piercings a turnoff or a turn-on. No one here had to take a class to figure out how to make a man notice you.

  That being said, I did have a date from one of my Web sites. eCommitment had come through. Dave, an engineer who worked in Hartford, wanted to meet me. Checking out his picture, I saw that, aside from a rather dated and conservative haircut, he was awfully cute. I e-mailed back, saying I’d love to meet for coffee. And just like that, Dave made a date. Who knew it was so easy, and why had I waited so long?

  Yes, as I smooched withered cheeks and received gentle pats from soft, loving hands, I couldn’t help the hope that prickled in my chest. Dave and Grace. Gracie and Dave. As early as tonight, I might meet The One. I’d go into Rex Java’s, our eyes would meet, he’d slosh his coffee as he stood up to greet me, flustered and, dare I say, a little bit dazzled. One look and we’d just know. Six months from now, we’d be planning our wedding. He’d cook me breakfast on Saturday mornings, and we’d take long walks, and then, one day, when I told him I was pregnant, grateful tears would flood his eyes. Not that I was getting ahead of myself or anything.

  Mémé left before the dance was over, so I didn’t have to undergo the usual criticism of my technique, hair, clothing choices. I bid goodbye to Julian. “I’ll call with the time and date of the class,” he said, kissing my cheek.

  “Okay. No stone left unturned. ”

  “That’s my girl. ” He winked and hefted his bag across his shoulder, waving as he left.

  My hair felt a bit large, so I hit the loo to spritz on a little more frizz tamer/curl enhancer/holy water before my date with Dave. “Hi, Dave, I’m Grace,” I said to my reflection. “No, no, it’s natural. Oh, you love curly hair? Why, thank you, Dave!”

  As I left the bathroom, I caught a glimpse of someone at the end of the hall, walking away from me. He turned left, heading for the medical wing. It was Callahan O’ Shea. What was he doing here? And why was I blushing like some schoolkid who was just busted for smoking in the ba
throom? And why was I still staring after him when I had a date, a real live date, hmm? With that thought in mind, I headed out to my car.

  REX JAVA’S was about half-full when I got there, mostly high school kids, though none from Manning, which was in Farmington. I glanced around furtively. Dave didn’t appear to be here…there was a couple in their forties in one corner, holding hands, laughing. The man took a bite of the woman’s cake, and she swatted his hand, smiling.

  Show-offs, I thought with a smile. The whole world could see how happy they were. Over against the wall, a whitehaired older man sat reading a paper. But no Dave.

  I ordered a decaf cappuccino and took a seat, wondering if I should’ve changed out of my skirt before coming.

  Sipping the foam, I warned myself about getting my hopes up. Dave could be nice or he could be a jerk. Still. His picture was nice. Very promising.

  “Excuse me, are you Grace?”

  I looked up. It was the white-haired gentleman. He looked familiar…had he ever come to Dancin’ with the Oldies? It was open to the public, after all. Possibly a Manning connection?

  “Yes, I’m Grace,” I said tentatively.

  “I’m Dave! Nice to meet you!”

  “Hi…uh…” My mouth seemed to be hanging open. “You’re Dave? Dave from eCommitment?”

  “Yes! Great to see you! Can I have a seat?”

  “Um…I…sure,” I said slowly.

  Blinking rapidly, I watched as Dave sat, easing his leg out from the table. The man in front of me was sixty-five if he was a day. Possibly seventy. Thinning white hair. Lined face. Veiny hands. And was it me, or was his left eye made of glass?

  “This is a cute place, isn’t it?” he said, scootching his chair in and looking around. Yep. The left eye didn’t move a bit. Definitely man-made.

  “Yes. Um, listen, Dave,” I said, trying for a friendly but puzzled smile. “Forgive me for saying this, but your photo …well, you looked so…youthful. ”

  “Oh, that,” he laughed. “Thank you. So you said you’re a dog lover? Me, too. I have a golden retriever, Maddy. ”

  He leaned forward and I caught a whiff of Bengay. “You mentioned that you also have a dog?”

  “Um, yes. Yes, I do. Angus. A Westie. So. When was that taken? The picture?”

  Dave thought a minute. “Hmm, let’s see now. I think I used the one taken just before I went to Vietnam. Do you like to eat out? I love it myself. Italian, Chinese, everything. ” He smiled. He had all his own teeth, I had to give him that, though most of them were yellow with nicotine stains. I tried not to wince.

  “Yeah, about the photo, Dave. Listen. Maybe you should update that, don’t you think?”

  “I suppose,” he said. “But you wouldn’t have gone out with me if you knew my real age, would you?”

  I paused. “That’s…that’s exactly my point, Dave,” I said. “I really am looking for someone my own age. You said you were near forty. ”

  “I was near forty!” Dave chuckled. “Once. But listen, sweetheart, there are advantages to being with an older man, and I figured you gals would be more open to them if you met me in person. ” He smiled broadly.

  “I’m sure there are, Dave, but the thing is—”

  “Oh, excuse me,” he interrupted. “I really should empty this leg bag. You don’t mind, do you? I was injured at Khe Sanh. ”

  Khe Sanh. Being a history teacher, I knew quite well that Khe Sanh was one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. My shoulders slumped. “No, of course I don’t mind. You go ahead. ”

  He winked his real eye and rose, walking to the restroom with a slight limp. Great. Now I’d have to stay, because I couldn’t walk out on a Purple Heart, could I? It would be unpatriotic. I couldn’t just say, Sorry, Dave, I don’t date elderly wounded veterans who can’t pee on their own. That wouldn’t be nice, not a bit.
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